THE STRAYS (2023), a new thriller now available on Netflix, has as its greatest strength an unusual premise, one that held my interest for two thirds of the way through the movie, but where it ultimately goes with its plot is a major disappointment.
The story told in THE STRAYS can be separated into three parts.
In the first part, we meet Neve (Ashley Madekwe), a Black woman who is so overwhelmed by her family life, two young children and an abusive husband, that she just up and leaves. The story finds her years later with a new family, a white husband Ian (Justin Salinger) and two teenage children, Sebastian (Samuel Paul Small) and Mary (Maria Almeida). They are an affluent family, and so unlike her previous life, Neve is doing quite well, and she has a good job at the private school her children attend. Neve works hard to put her past behind her, including seemingly disowning her blackness, as she tries exceedingly hard to fit into the white culture found in her wealthy British neighborhood.
Life is good for Neve, until she spies two strangers watching her at various times in the day, and these same strangers also take an interest in her children. At this point, the film takes on a creepy vibe and begins to work more as a thriller than a drama. Once these strangers identify themselves, the film reveals their backstories, and it’s here where the vibe of the movie changes yet again, and honestly where it becomes most intriguing. Amid the revelations made about these two characters, the story is set to go to some very dark and sad places, and the potential is ripe for some serious drama.
Which brings us to the third part of the movie, and by far, the weakest part, because it’s here where THE STRAYS goes full blown thriller, which doesn’t really work. The movie offers a thought-provoking premise but then resolves everything in the final reel in the least thought-provoking way. On one level, it makes sense for these two characters to act this way, because they are acting out of raw emotion, but there were so many more impactful ways this story could have gone, so many other conversations and situations. But the film settles for the easiest way out.
And the ending is both predictable and a letdown. Because really, the conflict presented here is not really resolved.
THE STRAYS was written and directed by first-time director Nathaniel Martello-White, and what he is saying in this movie almost works. The undercurrent in this story is the disowning of one’s race and culture, as Neve buries her past and focuses only on fitting into the new white culture she has married into. The story also examines the fallout such a choice has on the people left behind. I liked all of these aspects of the story, but the third act doesn’t handle the material satisfactorily, and settles for a straight-forward violent conclusion.
The acting is all fine. Ashely Madekwe is superb in the lead role as Neve. She captures the duality of the character, and she possesses the ability to turn facets of her personality on and off at will. She also gets one of the best lines in the movie, where she is explaining what she did, leaving her family behind, and she asks why she should be held accountable when it is something that men do all the time and society accepts it. And early on before leaving her first family, she laments that this wasn’t how she expected her life to go, that she worked hard and did all the right things, and she didn’t deserve this. She is told to be patient. Instead, she shakes her head and leaves. Madekwe gets many powerful scenes and handles them all well.
The first two thirds of THE STRAYS are compelling, but the final act is a letdown.
I give this underwhelming thriller two stars.
Four stars – Perfect, Top of the line
Three and a half stars- Excellent
Three stars – Very Good
Two and a half stars – Good
Two Stars – Fair
One and a half stars – Pretty Weak
One star- Poor
Zero stars – Awful